The offensive line is a top concern for the New York Jets that must be addressed this offseason. One position along the offensive front, in particular, with current questions, is center.
After playing out his three-year contract, Connor McGovern is set to be a free agent. McGovern, going into year eight of his career and turning 30 in April, seems to have an uncertain future with the Jets. A recent report from Connor Hughes of SNY indicated that the two may be going their separate ways after three years.
With the possibility that the Jets and McGovern move on, it creates a void in the middle of the offensive line. McGovern was not great, particularly in pass protection, but he gave the Jets incredible stability, missing just two starts in his three years with the team. He also gave, at times, incredible contributions in the running game.
The Jets could address this need for a center through either the draft or free agency, which remains to be seen. Should Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh decide to not pigeonhole themselves into forcing a center in the first two to three rounds, it would be wise to add some insurance with a veteran this free agency. Let’s review some of the best free-agent centers that the Jets could pursue.
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Centers, the New York Jets, could target in free agency:
Ethan Pocic, Cleveland Browns:
Ethan Pocic is coming off a great career year in which he broke out in a big way. He is now set to be one of if not the best free agent center on the open market. Pocic has tons of size for a center listed at 6-foot-6 and 309 pounds with 33 1/8″ arm length. He has now played six NFL seasons and turns 28 in August. Pocic has started 53 games in his career.
Pocic was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks as a second-round pick in 2017 and spent the first five years of his career with them. Then, last offseason, he signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns and enjoyed the best success of his career under former Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan (2008-11). Pocic started 13 games and was charged with just two sacks and one penalty, per PFF.
He also thrived in the Browns’ wide zone running scheme, which the Jets will continue to run under new offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. Pocic has the athletic ability to be a great run blocker with the Jets in zone schemes. Pocic would be a terrific signing for a Jets offensive line filled with concerns at the moment.
Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles:
There are tons of questions to ask when it comes to what will happen this offseason for 12-year Philadelphia Eagles center, Jason Kelce. Could he retire? Even though the Eagles drafted his future replacement, Cam Jurgens, in the second round last year, could they re-sign their first-team All-Pro for one more year? Regardless of the questions and his age, there is no reason to not at least mention Kelce for the Jets. After all, there is a connection with Joe Douglas from his tenure with the Eagles.
The resume of Kelce simply speaks for itself. He is a Super Bowl champion with a chance to get a second next week. He is a five-time first-team All-Pro (2017-19, 2021-22). Kelce is also a six-time Pro Bowler (2014, 2016, and 2019-22). In 12 years with the Eagles, he has started 16 games or more in 10 seasons. Despite being 35, Kelce has not missed a start since 2014.
The accolades over a long period of time are nothing short of incredible. Yet, still, Kelce is widely regarded as being the best center in the NFL. Per PFF, he did not allow one sack this year. The chances are likely slim, but Kelce is possibly an option as he is currently set to be a free agent.
Jake Brendel, San Francisco 49ers:
Jake Brendel is an underrated and intriguing option for the Jets at center this free agency. Brendel has played seven years in the NFL and, in September will turn 31. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 299 pounds, and has 31 5/8″ arm length.
Despite being in the NFL for seven seasons, Brendel did not get his first opportunity to start until this past year. He went on to start all 17 games for the San Francisco 49ers and play some good football. Brendel excelled in pass protection, giving up just one sack per PFF. His issue was penalties, where he let up 12.
Brendel is a good athlete who showed some promise in the running game in 2022 as well. He was obviously in a similar scheme in Kyle Shanahan’s offense to what the Jets will run, making the fit a good one for Brendel with the Jets. In just his first year as a starter, Brendel put together some quality work and could be in the conversation for the Jets this off-season.
Garrett Bradbury, Minnesota Vikings:
Garrett Bradbury was the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round draft pick in 2019 and, after not having his fifth-year option picked up, is set for free agency. He was a much older rookie, as he is set to turn 28 early this summer. Bradbury is listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.
Bradbury has always had the talent, though and started 57 games for the Vikings over the last four years (at least 12 each season). One plus to Bradbury’s game in 2022 was a lack of penalties committed, with four. He was also charged with just two sacks given up, per PFF.
He has not lived up to his first-round billing, but only going into year five, perhaps, Bradbury could be a late-bloomer. Bradbury has always been gifted with athleticism and could fit right into Hackett’s zone rushing scheme with the Jets.
Rodney Hudson, Arizona Cardinals:
Rodney Hudson is similar to Jason Kelce. Accomplished, still an asset, but up there in age with a few questions entering this off-season. Hudson has now been in the NFL for 12 years and will turn 34 in July.
After playing at least 15 games from 2016-20 over the last two years, availability has started to become an issue with Hudson. Since 2021, he has played in just 16 games, only four in 2022. In his four starts, though, he did some great work as a pass blocker, not allowing one sack, per PFF. They assigned him for one sack allowed in 12 games in 2021. Hudson also kept mistakes at a minimum with just one penalty.
The age and durability at this point have to come into question with Hudson. He has proven, though, when on the field, he can still be a good contributor.
Bradley Bozeman, Carolina Panthers:
For the second year in a row, Bradley Bozeman will be a free agent. He has played five years in the NFL and will turn 29 in November of the 2023 season. Bozeman has started 59 games over the past four seasons.
Last year with the Carolina Panthers, Bozeman started in 11 games. Bozeman was not good as a pass blocker but did quality stuff in the running game. The thing is, Bozeman has more size at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, and power which may not gel with Hackett’s zone running scheme.
Bozeman has some athletic and pass-blocking limitations but has done some credible work over the last four years as a starter. He adds some nice depth to this free-agent group.
Jon Feliciano, New York Giants:
Jon Feliciano has played eight years in the NFL and turns 31 next week. He has 54 career starts, 46 of them have come since 2019. Feliciano started 15 games for the Giants in 2022 at center.
He has some positional flexibility, playing both left and right guard in the past. Per PFF, Feliciano only allowed three sacks last season but was penalized six times. As noted by his sacks allowed amount, Feliciano did his finest work with the Giants as a pass protector.
Feliciano may have his athletic limitations and not be the most ideal fit for the Jets’ running game. He does, however have the size at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, physicality, with some experience, and pass-blocking prowess as a solid option.
Connor McGovern, Dallas Cowboys:
Similar to Feliciano, Connor McGovern has played all over the interior of the offensive line. Some Jets fans may remember McGovern as a possible draft pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft. He was selected by the Dallas Cowboys just two picks before the Jets were up.
McGovern started 15 games in 2022 and played most of his reps at left guard but has more than enough prior experience at center to play the position for the Jets. He did some good work last season, committing just one penalty and allowing two sacks, per PFF.
One major appeal of McGovern is his age. He is by far the youngest player mentioned in this article. McGovern is 25, turning 26 in early November going into year five of his career. Coming off his best year in 2022, McGovern could be hitting his prime years.
Above is a total of eight free agent centers that the Jets could have interest in signing this free agency.
The best player, without question, is Kelce. Even with his age, if the five-time first-team All-Pro who earned the honors in 2022 still wants to play, he is the top option on the market.
From there, Pocic is the next best center. What will be interesting is his financial demands. Coming off an awesome year but with no other proven success in prior years, how much will he be looking for, and would the Jets meet his asking price?
McGovern, with his youth, versatility, and likely entering his prime years, looks to be a hot commodity.
Brendel is a very fascinating player who could build on his first year as a starter, in which he showed good things.
All in all, there are more than enough quality veterans at the center position who will be out there for the Jets. Signing one also does not necessarily rule out the possibility of drafting a center with more thoughts long-term in the mid-rounds. It will certainly be interesting to see how Douglas and Saleh address this current vacancy at center this off-season.